The Top 10 Most Prescribed Drugs

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Most-Prescribed Drug List Differs From List of Drugs With Biggest Market Share

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 20, 2011 - The 10 most prescribed drugs in the U.S. aren't the drugs on which we spend the most, according to a report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

The institute is the public face of IMS, a pharmaceutical market intelligence firm. Its latest report provides a wealth of data on U.S. prescription drug use.

Continuing a major trend, IMS finds that 78% of the nearly 4 billion U.S. prescriptions written in 2010 were for generic drugs (both unbranded and those still sold under a brand name). In order of number of prescriptions written in 2010, the 10 most-prescribed drugs in the U.S. are:

Hydrocodone (combined with acetaminophen) -- 131.2 million prescriptions
Generic Zocor (simvastatin), a cholesterol-lowering statin drug -- 94.1 million prescriptions
Lisinopril (brand names include Prinivil and Zestril), a blood pressure drug -- 87.4 million prescriptions
Generic Synthroid (levothyroxine sodium), synthetic thyroid hormone -- 70.5 million prescriptions
Generic Norvasc (amlodipine besylate), an angina/blood pressure drug -- 57.2 million prescriptions
Generic Prilosec (omeprazole), an antacid drug -- 53.4 million prescriptions (does not include over-the-counter sales)
Azithromycin (brand names include Z-Pak and Zithromax), an antibiotic -- 52.6 million prescriptions
Amoxicillin (various brand names), an antibiotic -- 52.3 million prescriptions
Generic Glucophage (metformin), a diabetes drug -- 48.3 million prescriptions
Hydrochlorothiazide (various brand names), a water pill used to lower blood pressure -- 47.8 million prescriptions.
The 10 Best-Selling Drugs

It shouldn't be a surprise that these generic drugs are not the ones bringing in the big bucks for pharmaceutical companies. The drugs on which we spend the most money are those that are still new enough to be protected against generic competition.

The IMS reports that Americans spent $307 billion on prescription drugs in 2010. The 10 drugs on which we spent the most were:

Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug -- $7.2 billion
Nexium, an antacid drug -- $6.3 billion
Plavix, a blood thinner -- $6.1 billion
Advair Diskus, an asthma inhaler -- $4.7 billion
Abilify, an antipsychotic drug -- $4.6 billion
Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug -- $4.4 billion
Singulair, an oral asthma drug -- $4.1 billion
Crestor, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug -- $3.8 billion
Actos, a diabetes drug -- $3.5 billion
Epogen, an injectable anemia drug -- $3.3 billion
U.S. Prescription Drug Use: 2010 Factoids

Who's paying for all these drugs? Commercial insurance helped pay for 63% of prescriptions, down from 66% five years ago. Federal government spending through Medicare Part D covered 22% of prescriptions.

For Americans covered by insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, the average co-payment for a prescription was $10.73 -- down a bit from 2009 due to increased use of generic drugs. The average co-payment for branded drugs for which generic alternatives were available jumped 6% to $22.73.

Other facts from the 2010 IMS report:

Doctor visits were down 4.2% since 2009.
Patients filled more than half of their prescriptions -- 54% -- at chain drugstores, possibly because of discounts on generic drugs.
Brands that lost their protection from generic competition led to $12.6 billion less spending in 2010 than in 2009.
The price increase for drugs without generic competition led to $16.6 billion more spending in 2010 than in 2009.
Drug companies offered $4.5 billion in rebates to assist patients with the high cost of brand name drugs for which there was no generic alternative.
SOURCE: IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics: "The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2010," April 2011.

©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Re: The Top 10 Most Prescribed Drugs

Well, in my own opinion, most of the prescribed medications are pain relievers. Albeit prescription drugs is legal, report of abuse has been noted. This is to inform everybody,a new study links rising prescription drug misuse and internet-based pharmacies. Incidents of people being admitted to hospitals for overdosing on addictive medications increased between 2000 and 2007 along with the average internet usage. However, the connection is only speculated on. The authors and researchers of the research doubt that there was much of an effect. The proof is here: Prescription drug abuse worsened by online pharmacies,

Re: The Top 10 Most Prescribed Drugs

According to the article above from WebMD, your supposition that "most of the prescribed medications are pain relievers" is incorrect. In actuality, Hydrocodone is the only pain reliever on the top ten.

But I do agree that online pharmacies do create a unique problem, for the FDA.

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